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The Challenges of Cheating in High School

This is a piece I’ve thought about writing for a while. During my six years of working with young adults daily in 3-hour client sessions, I feel I have enough research to share what many people do not want to talk about…cheating in school. It has happened throughout the history of education. But with the introduction of technology, it has gone to a whole new level.

My husband attended and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). It is similar to West Point and The Air Force Academy however the biggest difference is they pay for their education and voluntarily agree to unbelievable physical demands. I often joked, “Why in the world would you select that type of school?” To which he says, “Because I would never have finished at a regular school. I needed the discipline.”

During his time at VMI, one of his roommates and friends was “Rolled” for cheating. Like the cheating that just occurred at West Point, “integrity” is instilled in their cadets and it is not just a word. A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” When the VMI Honor Court finds someone guilty of lying, cheating, or stealing, that person is “Rolled” in the middle of the night with all Cadets looking on. This event usually starts at 3 AM with a loud drum roll, hence the name “Roll.” As the cadets are jarred awake by the drum roll, they stumble out of bed and walk outside. Barracks is 4 stories tall and a giant square with all rooms facing in. When you walk out of your room you are outside and can see down to the courtyard in the middle of the barracks. This is where the Honor Court stands and announces the cadet’s name and what the individual was convicted of. That individual is gone. He is not in his room and no one knows until that moment that he was convicted. It’s a haunting experience. Why the West Point cheating students weren’t removed from the university is baffling to everyone who has ever attended a military university and goes against everything these institutions stand for. It was about sports.

For students who decide to attend a regular university, if they have “snap cheated” their way through high school, they never learned to study. Then, when they arrive their freshman year, they have no idea how to survive. Straight “A” students now are getting C’s and maybe their first D. And a B can really make them question themselves. They are shaken because they now must fend for themselves.

High School educators know this is happening but there is very little they can do to change it. And in the pandemic, it is more rampant than ever before. Here are a few reasons I’m concerned.

1. HS students are not learning how to learn.

They are learning how to get the grade. For high performers, they are also playing this game. The game of class rankings. When I review the intake form of my clients, I asked, “How many hours per day do you study?” I often see zero, 30 minutes, or 1 hour. I ask the questions, “Do you know HOW to study?” The answer is almost 100% of the time…no. If they are sophomores or juniors, I encourage them to learn those precious skills now, so they are ahead for their freshman year in college. Here are some great tips for learning to study.

2. They don’t know how to self-advocate when they get into trouble their freshman year.

Because students have never struggled, when they experience the new learning environment of college, they are unprepared and don’t know how to ask for help before they are in over their heads. They feel they should know how to engage in college-level work, but they don’t. They haven’t made friends in the class, especially in a pandemic where they may be online and don’t even know who’s in their class. They have no one to ask for answers. They are on their own. Going to the professor and getting a tutor is beyond their comfort zone. Additionally, this is a new skill they haven’t developed because they’ve been getting their help, hence answers, from peers, online, or any other way. Every university has a counseling department that can help guide students with resources. Almost every single university has a freshman seminar course, which is required, that should cover topics that helps young adults gain insight into how to make the transition successfully. I think this is one of the most important classes a college student will take in their first year.

3. We need to talk to our children about cheating and discourage it.

I personally know of a story where a student attended UT Austin. He wasn’t great a math, however, was in the business school. Because his mother knew his math abilities weren’t strong, she hired a student for $1K to take the class for her son. When I heard this story of a kid I know, I was sad. I thought, what in the world has this young man just learned.

When I have client sessions and this topic comes up, I say to the young adult client, “I know everyone is cheating their way through high school.” Every single young adult smiles. EVERY SINGLE ONE. And the parent will often nod their head. Personally having two daughters in the educational chapter of their lives, we talk about it. And my husband and I share our viewpoint. Cheating will catch up with you. The goal of high school is to learn material that prepares you for college. Teachers in high school will tell you they want to get kids ready for what comes next. It is why they do what they do. And colleges, in the spirit of a very broad generalization, don’t care if your child is ready. They expect them to be ready. They expect they are prepared to study, research, work hard and advocate for their education. If they get caught cheating, they will be removed from the institution and they keep your money. So, it’s important to have these hard conversations and set expectations because we are doing them a disservice when they get to college, not to mention life, which is something I feel the young man at UT didn’t learn.

Another reason I’m so passionate about what I do is I want young adults to know what comes naturally to them so hopefully, they don’t struggle as much. Will they need to study for more than 30 minutes per day? Absolutely, and we talk about this. Will they get lower grades than they ever have before? Most likely in 99% of the cases but that is okay! Everyone does and it does not need to define their self-worth or future. I tell students when I speak at high schools, I did not pass Accounting or Economics in college. Well, technically I did, but I did not have an aptitude for those two subjects. But I did go to the professor almost daily asking for help. They knew I seriously was struggling but was invested in asking for help. Professors just want to know you care. I jokingly say I think they thought if I didn’t pass, they’d have to deal with me again the next semester.

I want students to go to college and be successful. I want them to go having language about who they are, what they like, and ultimately where they fit into the work world. I want them to be curious and enjoy their classes. I want them to feel they are capable and are smart enough. It’s such a critical life lesson that often gets thrown to the side in the world of academic competition and comparison. I want them to believe they can do it on their own so they ultimately can “authentically” proceed with true confidence.


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